Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Great War - a selection of books

When you think of Remembrance Day you think of The First World War, which defined the horrors of modern warfare, introduced the idea of static trenches with soldiers slugging it out for yards of mud for months. There are more books on the First World War and different aspects of it but here are a selection to consider if you want to read more about the subject.

Mud, Blood and Poppycock by Gordon Corrigan
A book that makes non bones about its aim to set the record straight. He deals with the idea that there was a lost generation, that the generals were donkeys leading lions and that the battles were a waste of life. He sets out to puncture those myths and is persuasive but it gets dangerous in places because there is almost an assumption that life is expendable. In other parts he argues that just because the French needed the Somme the British were right to do it. Maybe it was Verdun that needed the rethink not the Somme? An aggressive read that proves that history is an evolving debate.

To The Last Man: Spring 1918
by Lyn Macdonald
Like her other books she lets the soldiers do the talking through letters, diaries and interviews. Very well researched but the slight disappointment that hits you around page 280, which is that this book does not cover the war until the end of the conflict but in terms of adding to her other books including They Called It Passchendaele: The Story of the Battle of Ypres and of the Men Who Fought in It and The Somme this gives an insight using real voices of what was happening in the year 1918.

The Last Kaiser The Life of Wilhelm II by Giles MacDonogh
Of course one of the other victims was the German leader who took his nation into war. He was an odd man who was seen by his people as powerful but the war came about because of his attempts not to lose power and to be taken more seriously by his cousins who happened to be running Britain and Russia. In the end he lost the power struggle and ended up in exile in Holland. Not badly written but you get weary of claims on the dust jacket that this is something “gripping” when it fails to live up to that adjective.

The Eastern Front 1914-1917
by Norman Stone
There are few books telling the story of what happened with Russia’s involvement with the war before the revolution. This is a classic dose of military history making it difficult to stick with sometimes and you are aware that this was written before the collapse of communism and historians today have access to more archive material. In summary: Austria was weak, Italians were weaker but Russia blew it in terms of strategy and confidence. Germany created myths of easy victories that were hard to replicate, especially on the Western front.

All Quiet on The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
A thought-provoking book that is based on the German side. In the end the main character is also a victim of the futile war but before he succumbs to a bullet you get a good idea of what it must have been like in a trench, in the rear and in a field hospital. Brilliantly written and very powerful is reminds you that it doesn’t matter which side you are on because everyone is a victim of war.
The Great War by Marc Ferro
Because Ferro is French this is better on the French take on the war. It is mainly written as a summary of the war but he does go in depth over quite off things and in other parts skips over them quickly and moves on. There is also too much expectation that the reader will have a basic understanding of the conflict before reading this book.


Brandon said...

These look like very interesting books, especially the non-fiction ones. I'll have to keep them in mind.

Ex Libris said...

I agree with you totally on the Remarque. I've not read the others, but they sound really good, even with flaws.